Living with the Desert

Can we learn to love this landscape without killing it? Here's how one Arizona community found a way

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MICHAEL R. STOKLOS FOR TIME

DESERTED NO MORE: Strip malls like this one on Highway 77 in Catalina, Ariz., are blooming in the Southwest

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The idea of treating the desert gently, pioneered by forward-thinking planners like Huckelberry, is finally starting to catch on. "The conservation issue has just exploded," says Mike Chedester, education curator for the Living Desert University in Palm Desert, Calif. The program began only three years ago, and now he runs 124 courses a year on desert ecology and xericulture, or gardening with desert plants. "We have many students who come out to the desert, buy a home prelandscaped with lawns that need watering two or three times a day, and after a while they realize it doesn't make sense."

Carolyn Zeiger is doing her best to reduce the impact their home makes on the desert. "Given the rate the desert is being gobbled up by people like us, my feeling is we need to put some back," she says, standing on her porch and pointing to the plants in her yard. "I put in native plants only--ocotillo, Arizona rosewood, desert willow, prickly pear. I start them with a little water, but soon they will survive on their own."

The desert stretches out in front of her, the ground turning pink in the sunlight and the distant mountains a dark shade of blue. The desert doesn't need much to survive--a little moisture, not too much disturbance, a little respect from humans. Then it too can survive on its own.

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